The Edmond Sun

Business

November 5, 2013

Worker-rights case asks court to define 'clothes'

WASHINGTON — A seemingly simple phrase can sometimes become stubbornly opaque when the lawyers at the Supreme Court get to it, and that was the case Monday when the justices examined what "changing clothes" means.

It is part of a case brought by Clifton Sandifer and 800 current and former workers at the U.S. Steel plant in Gary, Ind. They claim federal law requires them to be compensated for the time they spend putting on protective gear before reporting to their work stations.

U.S. Steel said the workers need not be paid because of an exception in the law that allows employers and unions to agree not to pay for "any time spent in changing clothes or washing at the beginning or end of each workday." Such an agreement is in place in Gary.

While washing is not part of the dispute, what constitutes "clothes" is at the heart of the matter.

Sandifer's attorney, Eric Schnapper of Seattle, said that "not everything an individual wears is clothes." He said it should not be difficult to differentiate between normal clothes and something unique that industrial workers must don and doff.

"Our test is: An item is not clothes if it is worn to protect against a workplace hazard and was designed to protect against hazards," he told the justices.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit didn't accept that and previously ruled against the workers, who are required to wear flame-retardant jackets, pants, snood, gloves, wristlets and leggings.

That court took a picture of a model wearing the attire, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg held it up for Schnapper. "From the picture, that looks like clothes to me," she said.

Schnapper said this is a case in which a picture does not tell the story.

But Ginsburg said there were all kinds of jobs that require uniforms — bakers or doormen, for instance — and no one believes those workers should be paid for putting on clothing.

And there was a bit of real-life experience from the court. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who worked summers in a steel plant to help pay for college, said there were particularly thick blue jeans that workers would wear at the plant but not elsewhere. Don't those protect from workplace hazards? he asked.

Lawyer Lawrence DiNardo, representing the steel company, said that the focus should be not on the items a worker wears but rather on the process of getting ready for work.

"Collective bargaining does not focus on whether or not a shirt is clothes or a pair of pants are clothes or protective eye gear, and that is how the statute was written," DiNardo said. "Given those two points, the term 'clothes' as used in the statute was intended to encompass the work outfit industrial workers were required to change into and out of to be ready for work. "

Justice Sonia Sotomayor said that would make something like a scuba tank "clothes" for some workers. And she had other examples:

"Your definition would include somebody spending an hour of putting on a suit of armor if he's going to be a jouster. It would include the space people who put on that complicated white suit that has all the connections to equipment."

The government proposed that the court differentiate between clothes and equipment.

"For instance," said Assistant Solicitor General Anthony M. Yang, "the meatpacker might have a chain mail" kind of sleeve, chain-mail gloves and a plexiglass "belly guard" as part of his work attire. Those would not be considered "clothes," he said.

Interest groups representing manufacturers and others said a ruling in favor of the workers could have a huge impact in back pay and other costs.

At the end of the hour-long argument, Justice Elena Kagan wondered why a government agency had never tackled the question of what the statute means when it says "clothes."

Schnapper said he did not know, but Justice Antonin Scalia offered a reason.

"Too complicated is why," he said.

The case is Sandifer vs. U.S. Steel.

1
Text Only
Business
  • Edmond School District’s change orders anticipated

    When building new schools and classrooms there may be additional costs, but when renovating older buildings those costs can more than double, according to a Edmond School District official.
    “When remodeling, you have unknown and hidden costs and you need to include in your budgeted funds for the built-in items you can not see,” said Bret Towne, Edmond’s associate superintendent of general administration.

    July 25, 2014

  • Planning Commission approves rezoning

    The Edmond Planning Commission this week voted 4-0 in favor of rezoning from a single family district.  Peter and Kimberly Roberts made the request to allow a planned unit development on the southeast corner of Jackson and Lincoln Avenue, said Bob Schiermeyer, city planner.
    “They would like to have D-2 family (neighborhood commercial) zoning for duplexes, 14,000 square feet,” Schiermeyer said. “They can put four units on the property.”

    July 25, 2014

  • A Q&A on ‘Obamacare’ Court Rulings

    On Tuesday, two federal appeals courts issued conflicting rulings on the legality of tax subsidies being provided to people who bought “Obamacare” health insurance policies in Oklahoma and 35 other states.
    Here’s a look at the rulings’ potential impact in Oklahoma.

    Q: I’m confused. What did the courts rule today?
    A: A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals circuit in Washington, D.C., decided that the government can’t provide tax subsidies for Affordable Care Act plans purchased in 36 states where the federal government is operating the health insurance exchange. Oklahoma is one of the 36 states. A few hours later, the U.S. Court of Appeals circuit in Richmond, Va., issued a conflicting ruling that upheld the legality of the health-care law’s tax subsidies.

    July 22, 2014

  • June healthy month for Oklahoma jobs

    Nearly 10,000 new jobs in Oklahoma were created in June, according to the U.S. Labor Department.
    Gov. Mary Fallin said Tuesday the state experienced one of the largest increases in employment in the nation in June. More than 9,600 additional people joined the state’s workforce in June.
    The unemployment rate in June dropped to 4.5 percent, its lowest ratio in six years. June’s rate was down a percentage point from 4.6 percent in May and April, according to the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission.

    July 22, 2014

  • UCO campus 3.jpg University of Central Oklahoma recognized as having friendly work environment

    The Chronicle of Higher Education named the University of Central Oklahoma as one of the “2014 Great Colleges to Work For.” Central is the only higher education institution in the state recognized on the list and one of only a handful of institutions in the nation given the distinction of being named to the Honor Roll for being cited most often among all the recognition categories.          
    Central joins Duke, Baylor and Notre Dame on the list of the 10 universities named to the large institution honor roll.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Council approves funds toward ADA update

    City Council members have approved a $398,800 professional services contract with Accessology, a McKinney, Texas, firm, to establish an Americans With Disabilities Act transition plan for the city.
    Title II of the ADA requires state and local governments to make their programs and services accessible to persons with disabilities. It includes access to government facilities, programs and events and relevant policy changes.
    Accessology was selected out of a pool of five finalists by a five-member committee to create Edmond’s plan. The firm will partner with Kimley-Horn and Associates, a design consulting firm located in North Carolina.
    Edmond’s last ADA transition plan was created in 1992.

    July 21, 2014

  • Panel approves jail services agreement

    City Council members have approved renewal of the city’s jail services agreement with Oklahoma County for prisoners incarcerated at the county jail on city charges.
    The current annual agreement expired June 30. It provides the feeding, care, housing and upkeep of said prisoners. Edmond uses the county jail when the city jail is at capacity.
    The sheriff’s office proposed a slight increase from $46.25 to a $46.50 daily rate per prisoner. City staff said the current agreement is working satisfactorily and believe the proposed rate is reasonable. The new agreement took effect July 1. The city can hold prisoners in its current jail  up to 10 days; a new jail with 10 male and five female cells will be available inside the new Public Safety Center next year when the facility opens.

    July 21, 2014

  • Panel establishes 911 phone rate

    City Council members have established the rate for the 911 emergency phone service fee for calendar year 2015
    Council members set the rate at 3 percent of the recurring charges as designated by the tariff for exchange telephone service or its equivalent within Edmond beginning Jan. 1, 2015.
    Fees collected by wireless and voice over Internet protocol companies are established under a separate statute. To continue collection of the locally authorized service fee on landline phone bills, local governments must approve a resolution on an annual basis to set the actual fee.
    Governments must also through the Association of Central Oklahoma Governments notify the appropriate incumbent local exchange carrier and competitive local exchange carrier phone companies by Sept. 1, 2015.
    ACOG recommended for calendar year 2015 to maintain service fees at their current level of 3 percent.

    July 21, 2014

  • Council approves $2.5M extra for utility

    City Council members have approved the transfer of a $2.5 million appropriation for Edmond Electric.
    The action was needed due to higher natural gas prices. Those increased prices caused wholesale electric purchase costs to exceed the department’s budget estimates for Fiscal Year 2013-14. To cover the increased costs, a transfer of funds from the “Transfers” category to the “Other Services and Charges” category was necessary.
    It will maintain state law requirements and not increase Edmond Electric’s budget.
    The action occurred during Monday’s meeting and was approved unanimously.

    July 21, 2014

  • The Escape Edmond entrepreneurs sleuth their way to success

    Tripadvisor.com led Andrew Gipson to an industrial complex outside of Dublin, Ireland, about a year ago. The recent University of Central Oklahoma graduate was in the midst of an extended stay in Australia and the United Kingdom when he walked through the doors of XIT Live Escape Adventure Game. According to Tripdadvisor, it was the top attraction in Ireland. He had to go.
    An hour later, Gipson, 24, exited the facility inspired.

    July 19, 2014 1 Photo

Stocks